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REVIEW – “Wrath of Man”: Guy Ritchie Imitates His Best Michael Mann in Gritty, Quiet Crime Epic

If you were prone enough to forget where you were in the weeks leading up to the pandemic, that’s perfectly acceptable. My mind would never allow me to forget how normal things were in the weeks prior, which still included in-person promotional events. One of them happened to be for a film directed by Guy Ritchie. A work of his that, after a middling 2010s where his sense of vision was a bit fogged up, reeled him back into the seedy underbelly of crime and bad behavior he helped refine into a style palette. Last year, it was The Gentlemen. And now, as we carefully tiptoe out of a large hole of dormancy, Ritchie and his directorial nefariousness has greeted us into a not completely normal summer season with Wrath of Man.

Last year’s didactic affair of cinematic scandal and fanciful booze drinking could be described as upper-level Guy. Adapted from the 2004 French caper Cash Truck, Wrath pushes its audience, those built-in fans, maybe two levels below the penthouse, to a place a bit dingier and less trustworthy. And of course, with an angle on both revenge and recompense. And that begins with Patrick Hill (Jason Statham), a new hire at publicity tarnished Fortico Security. They strive to be a top name in the whole armored car money transfer racket, though they’ve had a rough history. It’s likely H, as he’s nicknamed, could be the answer to substantially improving their track record. He proves to be an instant success, showing great physical strength and marksmanship.

His coworkers, a sufficiently rowdy, if not also quip-rowdy bunch (think the precinct in Robocop, but edgier), cannot make heads or tails of him. Dana (Niamh Algar), Bullet (Holt McCallany), and even Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett) are all suspicious of H, as a mystery develops around him, while on their transport gigs, and batting away would-be robbers looking for a major score. H makes quite the statement to the company, and head honcho Boss Blake (Rob Delaney), upon being lauded for a takedown accomplished with minimal effort. But that may just be one significant third of this puzzle. And the more this plot strolls along with its wild flair, the less likely the pieces are willing to fit together.

Ritchie once more proves his acrobatics in storytelling, shattering the buildup towards an admittedly overdrawn moment of heist movie heaven by leapfrogging between three separate sub-narratives. In one, we get the surface story, H’s way into the company.  Act Two is played like a giant flashback leaving more questions than answers. And Act Three is the riskiest, where in the wrong hands, any momentum would’ve slivered away. Instead, it’s a controlled stumble and tumble as a group of ex-military robbery experts make their play on the Fortico compound. On Black Friday, no less. Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan) and Jan (a flighty Scott Eastwood) lead this grizzled gang only looking for affirming life security, despite the odds in play.

Ritchie knows exactly what he’s doing, leading audiences on quite the rollercoaster ride, while buying himself time on the front of exposition. It’s instantly clear, however, he hasn’t tackled such a film with grandiose Bond-style scope in some time. Some for a lovingly handled title sequence in that style, and DoP Alan Stewart’s (Tom and Jerry) dizzying camera choices. Nor has he worked with Statham in a while. Last time was a much different affair, 2005’s quick-paced Revolver belongs in a more way sided era for the two. The pair have seemingly elevated to elder statesmen of their respective fields. Both having slumps but knowing how to reemerge stronger. Statham tiptoes back to level footing, one of his most confident roles in recent memory. Compared to prior works like The Meg or Hobbs and Shaw, Wrath is like a small amuse-bouche of violent acts. He’s the loyal line cook slinging peak physical grace and gruffness to Ritchie’s head chef, delivering equal spice. And even in those mild blind spots where the focus shifts away from Statham to flip the coin on Eastwood’s trigger-happy character arc, that cat-and-mouse dread still looms large. It’s perhaps the one consistent when the plot attempts to muster that promised raw violence and cunning essential to what it promises in the third act.

That slight differential in tone could be what sets Wrath of Man apart from Ritchie’s back catalog. And certainly, miles away from his brief phase being a darling to the Hollywood blockbuster system; yes, I’m talking specifically about Aladdin. What it lacks in being a bloody free for all, it makes up for portraying an unashamedly dark exercise in greed, grief, and the closure around both. I’m sure Michael Mann’s smiling and nodding. Accentuated with a killer score by UK film music vet Christopher Benstead, we’re treated to quite the rumble. Not a bombastic fight, but a witty enough exchange of ideas and ethics worthy of landing the uppercut at the very last moment. Patience is essential here; the reward couldn’t be sweeter. For Guy’s legion of fans, they probably couldn’t ask for better. (B+; 3.5/5 Horns Up!)

Wrath of Man is currently playing in theaters; rated R for strong violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexual references; 119 minutes.